City Council says Finnegan’s Wake can build two-story balcony over Spring Garden sidewalk

Finnegan’s Wake can build a two-story balcony hanging over most of the Spring Garden Street sidewalk, an outdoor dining patio on Bodine Street, and a second catering entrance, thanks to ordinances passed by City Council Thursday.

One of the bills closes a portion of tiny Bodine Street to vehicular traffic, making way for the dining patio, landscaping and a walking path.

Council did not take the advice of the Philadelphia City Planning Commission, which recommended allowing for the banning of vehicles, the patio and the catering entrance, but not the street encroachment bill. Planners did not like the fact that the planned balcony will project more than 14 feet out from the building, leaving less than two feet of sidewalk uncovered.

The balcony component of the plan is also strongly opposed by Northern Liberties Neighbors Association, said NLNA President Matt Ruben. “The community is unanimously and totally opposed,” he said. Ruben has testified in the past that neighbors already see Finnegan’s as a nuisance, and fear that outdoor balconies would make it worse. 

Part of the controversy over these bills and a previous incarnation from last council session (more on that later) is that Finnegan’s Wake owner Mike Driscoll is a Democratic committeeman. The patio and new green space on Bodine Street would span the space between the bar and new Democratic committee headquarters.

Driscoll could not be reached for comment Thursday, but has said in previous interviews that his position with the Democratic party has had no influence in this situation.  After the planning commission meeting, Driscoll said that the outdoor space the balconies would create was essential to his plan to shift his business more toward catering and away from the bar, and that his lender thought the balconies were particularly important.

Renderings shown to the commission by Driscoll and architect Leonard Ciccotello showed a revamped Finnegan’s building with the current brightly colored Spring Garden facade replaced by brick red and gray and windows with awnings. The two-tiered balcony dominates that side of the building.

The two Finnegan’s bills were introduced by First District Councilman Mark Squilla. Sean McMonagle, Squilla’s legislative assistant, said the councilman still has concerns about the proposal, too. Discussions will continue between all parties even though the legislation has been passed, McMonagle said.“They are going to work through it,” he said.

Ruben said that Squilla told him he would continue to talk with Finnegan’s and and neighbors to reach an agreement. Ruben was not appeased.

“As soon as the mayor signs (the legislation), this would allow Finnegan’s to pull the permits,” he said. That leaves neighbors dependent on Finnegan’s willingness to amend their plans after having legislation that says they can be built as-is, Ruben said. “It’s not a position that we want to be in.”
During testimony Thursday, Ruben urged council not to pass the ordinance allowing the outdoor balconies as written. He suggested an amendment, or the postponement of the vote until next week – Council voted earlier in the session to add an extra session next Thursday. Support of the bill was unanimous.

The Finnegan’s Wake proposal has taken quite some time to work its way through city planning and city council. A previous version of the legislation was introduced last council session by Squilla’s predecessor Frank DiCicco. DiCicco let the bill die because Finnegan’s and the neighbors had not reached an agreement.  The new legislation contains a significant change from back then: The old bill would have made Bodine completely private between Spring Garden and Green streets. This ordinance requires a public walking path.  Another change: Originally, Finnegan’s had planned to build the multi-level balcony over Bodine Street. Learn more history here, here and here.

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